Florida’s First People (c. 10,000 BC-1700 AD) The Mound Builders
Prepared by the Historical Monument Trail Selection Committee, Friends of the Riverwalk. For further information, contact Rodney Kite-Powell, RKP@tampabayhistorycenter.org
Twelve thousand years ago, Paleoindians, continuing their southern migration through the North American continent, entered the peninsula of Florida.
One interesting feature of these early inhabitants was their construction of large earthen or shell mounds, some for ceremonial or spiritual purposes. Others were simply large collections of shells and other debris. Numerous mounds dotted the landscape around the Tampa Bay area, including one exceptionally tall one that stood on what would become the southern edge of Fort Brooke, located near today’s hockey arena.
With the passage of centuries, these “First Floridians” formed separate groups or tribes. The two largest were the Timucua, living in the northern parts of Florida, and the Calusa, covering the southern parts. A smaller group, the Mocoso, lived on Hillsborough Bay between the Hillsborough River and the Alafia River. Their territory included what is now downtown Tampa.
Other small groups, including the Tocobaga and the Pohoy, lived along Old Tampa Bay.Florida’s first people lived in a natural paradise. They utilized the Gulf of Mexico for their supply of food and were accomplished seamen.
The Timucua and the Calusa frequently fought over territory, and it is likely that the area between the northern coast of Tampa Bay and Manatee County was disputed land.
During the late 1600s and early 1700s, the tribes of north Florida, including the natives of Tampa Bay were decimated by European diseases such as measles, smallpox, and influenza, as well as by warfare and slaving raids.